During pregnancy, babies are as close to their moms as they can be – getting the warmth, food, protection and oxygen that they need from their mother’s body. Then, labour occurs, and babies suddenly find themselves without immediate access to those essential needs. It is not surprising that study after study has shown a host of benefits for babies who experience skin-to-skin care (sometimes called ‘kangaroo care’) with their mothers. When babies are held against their mother’s skin, it is the closest they can get to being back in the warmth and security of the womb. Huggies® expert and Childbirth educator, Lynne Bluff, sheds some light on the benefits of skin-to-skin.
While most of the early research on skin-to-skin care is focused on the benefits of skin-to-skin care during the first hour or two after birth (often referred to as the “magical hour”), more recent studies show that skin-to-skin care boosts health well beyond the new-born’s first days. The power of touch is good for your baby – and good for you too.
Whenever possible, mothers and babies should be in direct contact immediately after birth. When left uninterrupted the baby will pass through the nine instinctive stages where baby will move himself to the breast, find the nipple area, latch on and suckle all on his own – this is instinctive to a baby and will lead to more successful long-term breastfeeding.
Long-term skin to skin can be done by mom or dad, when baby has on a nappy to prevent both of them being covered with wee and poo, but the rest of the baby is in the nude lying in direct contact with the bare chest of mom or dad and then covered with a shirt that ties the baby to mom or dad to keep them secure and in place while they can carry on the daily chores with baby attached to them. Huggies® Gold has a New Baby range which offers Huggies® Gold size 0, disposable nappy (for babies up to 4kg in weight) specifically designed for new-borns’ comfort and gentle skin protection. This nappy has special features that include an umbilical cord cut-out to allow for easier cleaning and protection of this delicate area, a wetness indicator that changes from yellow to green when the nappy is wet, fasten anywhere outer tabs to help provide the perfect fit; cottony soft breathable materials and a triple absorbent core with a quilted liner for optimal absorption and skin protection For skin-to-skin mom can also then wrap a shirt around the baby and her together keeping the baby in an upright position between her breasts. If the mother is unable to provide skin-to-skin care, due to labour or birth complications, then dad can step in. Within minutes, you will see the benefits of skin-to-skin care become evident as both mother and baby relax. The baby’s body temperature, breathing, and heart rate stabilize.
Here are the five leading benefits of skin-to-skin care:
Improvement in heart and lung function
Babies go through a dramatic transition after birth as they prepare to take their first breaths of air outside the uterus. Those that experience skin-to-skin tend to adapt sooner than those who don’t. They also tend to have heart and breathing rates that are both more normal and stable. This benefit holds true with premature infants as well as those born full-term. Perhaps the mother’s heart sounds and breathing patterns are familiar to the baby after spending time in the womb.
Stabilization of body temperature
During pregnancy, a mother maintains her baby’s temperature by sweating when hot and shivering and moving around when cold. After birth, babies have yet to acquire that same ability, so they can’t adjust their own body temperature. In fact, when it comes to keeping a vulnerable new-born warm, a mother’s body is better than an artificial warmer. A mother who has just given birth has a chest temperature that is one degree warmer than normal and has the ability to raise itself by another 2 degrees or lower it by a degree in response to the temperature of her baby on her chest – this regulation occurs automatically by the mother’s body in response to her baby’s temperature.
Transfer of good bacteria
Babies get exposed to their mother’s bacteria through skin-to-skin contact after birth. Early exposure helps babies develop a range of healthy bacteria. Skin-to-skin contact also supports early breastfeeding. Some of the complex sugars in human milk are indigestible in new-borns, but they boost digestive function, and provide protection from harmful bacteria (pathogens). Experts believe these good bacteria may protect against allergic disease.
Reduction in crying
Studies show that babies who are held skin-to-skin, cry less than those separated from their mothers. Some refer to a new-born’s cry as a “separation distress call”. During the new-born period, most babies cease crying once reunited with their mothers. Mom and baby should not be separated at birth and should stay skin to skin as much as possible both day and night.
Relief from pain
Studies of babies experiencing clinical procedures show that babies experience less pain when held skin-to-skin during (or even immediately following) the procedure and that the duration of the pain is shortened by the close contact. Skin-to-skin contact is also more beneficial than oral glucose (sugar water, a traditional solution) in relieving pain during a heel stick for blood sampling. The longer skin-to-skin lasts the better relief of pain symptoms.
Enhancement of mom-baby communication
The time after a baby’s birth provides an opportunity for parents to learn about their baby’s behaviour – signs of hunger, fullness, discomfort, and so on. Having the baby in close skin-to-skin contact helps to ensure that the mother will learn her baby’s signals sooner, improving communication, boosting maternal confidence as well as helping babies develop a sense of trust and security.
Skin-to-skin care is a simple, easy method of caring for new-born babies. Hold your baby close and continue to greet your baby with a hug throughout infancy.